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Cheetahs and Kings axed from Super Rugby

The South African Rugby Union confirmed today (Friday) that the Cheetahs and Southern Kings will be cut from the next season of Super Rugby as the franchise-based rugby union competition downsizes by three teams to 15.

The Australian Rugby Union has not confirmed yet the identity of the other franchise to be axed from the competition, which spans New Zealand, Japan and Argentina, as well as South Africa and Australia.

The Cheetahs and Southern Kings will explore “international competition opportunities,” according to the sport’s governing body in South Africa, with widespread speculation that the franchises will join the European Pro 12 tournament, which features teams from Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Wales.

Sanzaar, which operates Super Rugby, is downsizing just one season after expanding by three teams to 18 franchises following a “comprehensive assessment of the economic and sporting environment.”

The Cheetahs franchise is based in Bloemfontein and the Kings team is based in Port Elizabeth. Four other South African franchises will remain in the competition – based in Cape Town, Durban, Johannesburg and Pretoria.

The Cheetahs board said that it is “extremely positive about the prospect of appearing in an alternative international competition,” according to the franchise’s chief executive, Harold Verster. “It will be an exciting challenge for our players, supporters and commercial partners and will be the start of a new chapter for rugby both in our region and in South Africa.”

Andre Rademan, president of the Eastern Province Rugby Union, which oversees the Kings, said: “We have enjoyed Super Rugby but the chance to test ourselves against different opposition in different conditions is a mouth-watering one. We are therefore not opposed to joining new competitions.”